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Terra Cotta Pot Cooking

February 16, 2016

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In the cold days of winter, nothing is as satisfying as a slow-cooked meal.  One of my favorite cooking vessels is an Italian terra cotta cooker – a low-tech, time-honored clay pot that when heated, creates the gentle heat of a clay oven.  Left on low heat, ingredients can stay on the stove for more than 24 hours — never drying out, never burning.  The slow even heat generated in the earthenware pot keeps vegetables tender, while making meat incredibly tender.

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Mediterranean-style Chicken with Lemons and Capers

Into the pot all at once place chopped onion, garlic, carrots, mushrooms, potatoes and parsley; sliced lemons and kalamata olives; generous amounts of capers, hot pepper flakes, smoky paprika, salt and freshly-ground pepper; diced chicken; chicken broth and white wine.

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No oil or fat is needed with this method of cooking; food simply does not stick, dry out or burn.

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Onto the stove the pot goes, lid on, at the lowest possible setting.  It can truly stay there for 24 hours, or more.  The longer it cooks, the more tender it becomes.

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When done, the chicken is tender and flavorful, vegetables perfectly cooked; the lemon’s tartness is a perfect accompaniment to the saltiness of the olives and capers.  Serve with a  drizzle of olive oil and chopped fresh parsley, and a spoonful of saffron-infused rice for a perfectly satisfying, healthy (and no-fat) mid-winter meal.

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The Coffee Ritual

February 8, 2016

A good cup of coffee is undeniably worth the effort.  While the convenience of pre-measured quick-prep machines producing a cuppa joe in a flash into one’s travel mug makes perfect sense in our busy lives, there really is nothing to rival a thoughtfully prepared morning coffee.

For me, the ritual of making morning coffee is a luxurious event, building anticipation for that first luscious sip.  As with most of my culinary methods, I tend to prefer low-tech (non-electric, sans flashing lights and built-in timers) with no plastic or synthetic parts.

The set-up:

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The routine starts with fresh cold water put to boil in a glass kettle, quality locally-roasted beans ground to espresso fineness, and my French pot – a 4-piece porcelain pot with a long chamber for the ground coffee in a paper filter, a strainer to allow for slow water filtration, and lid.  It’s just so pure and elegant in its simplicity.

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An Italian-made stove-top steamer, filled with water and heated to boiling, creates a strong pressure that provides steady steam through a narrow wand, creating foamy thick steamed cream.

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Water that has reach a rolling boil is poured through the strainer, creating a slow, gentle trickle over the ground beans, filling the pot below with densely rich hot coffee.

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Pour in the thick steamed cream …

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… and GOOD morning!

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A Fairytale Snowstorm

December 18, 2012

The first snowfall of the season gave a fairytale-like appearance to the world around us.

The garden lights donned tall hats — and looked a bit like the Foot Guards at Buckingham Palace!

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Candles glowed from lanterns in the trees.

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Shafts of light tunneled through the high drifts.

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Topiary trees wore frilly bonnets.

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Lights twinkled through the panes of the potting shed window.

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And porch lights took on a mystical aura.

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A magical snowstorm, and all in time for Christmas!

Baking French Baguettes

December 13, 2012

Fresh warm baguettes

A batch of warm, crusty French baguettes just out of the oven.

I love a good French baguette — crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside, with a pat of cold unsalted butter.  I’m trying my hand at making my own.  Using just five ingredients — water, yeast, sugar, flour, salt — the process is amazingly simple, and the results are divine.

the dough process

Classic French Baguettes

1 cup lukewarm water

2 teaspoons yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1.  Put water into a large mixing bowl; sprinkle in the yeast and gently stir.  Cover the bowl with a cloth and let the yeast rise for 5 minutes.

2.  Mix the sugar, flour and salt into the yeast mixture.  Blend thoroughly.  Knead on a lightly floured surface, then cover with towel and let rise 10 minutes.

3.  After 10 minutes, knead again, cover and allow to rise another 10 minutes.

4.  Punch down the dough, cover, and let rise for about 30 minutes.

5.  Divide the dough in two, cover, and let rest for 20 minutes.

(Note:  If you have a bread machine, the steps 1-5 above can all be done using the “dough” setting, which takes approx. 90 minutes. This works equally well.)

6.  With a rolling pin, roll out each of the two lumps of dough on a lightly floured surface into approx. 9″ X 12″ rectangles.  Roll each lenghtwise into a tight roll, tapering ends to a point.  Press the dough firmly along the rolled edge to seal.  Put loaves onto baking pan, cut 3 or 4 diagonal slashes along the top. Cover with a towel, and let rise 20 – 25 minutes.

7.  Just prior to baking, brush loaves with a wash of 1 egg white mixed with 1 tablespoon of water.  This creates the crusty top.

8. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until browned.  (If you’ve rolled very thin baguettes, they will require less baking time.)

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Warm, crusty baguettes with cold unsalted butter … absolute contentment!

Details found on a fall walk

October 30, 2012

In summer, nature’s abundance and lush growth in the woods is intoxicating.  Yet when fall arrives and leaves are stripped from the trees, the smaller wonders of nature come into view.  Walking in the crisp air today, I found some amazing details in the forest.

A beautiful scallop-shaped fungus — just awaiting Venus!

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A perfect, tiny little mushroom that won’t be outdone.

The intricate bark of a majestic old ash.

Fallen leaves settling into a cushion of soft moss.

Brilliant goldenrod filling a field.

The vines of summer creating a lace blanket in the understory of trees.

And my faithful walking companion disappearing into the landscape of fall.

Mother Nature accessorizing at every turn!

Fish Tacos and the Lazy Days of Summer

July 9, 2012

On a recent beautiful summer’s day, my son and I went on the lookout for some good fish tacos for lunch.

We stumbled upon SeaSalt, a bright, cheery spot with an amazing menu of fresh seafood,
with outdoor tables and chairs, and a bit of a scenic backdrop.

It’s located right in the heart of Minnehaha Park …

… and overlooks the historic — and spectacular — Minnehaha Falls!

We had grilled Mahi Mahi tacos, and gazpacho with cool chunks of watermelon —
everything was incredibly fresh and seriously good!

I so often wish for the lazy days of summer I remember as a child,
and this was a perfect one … a leisurely lunch enjoyed outdoors,
a gorgeous summer day, mother nature amazing us with her glory,
a day with my son.  Ahhh … summertime!

Happy little signs of spring

March 29, 2011

On my walk today, I couldn’t help but smile at the cheerful signs of spring emerging everywhere,
politely tugging at my trouser legs as I walked past and whispering, “Notice me, notice me!”

Spring is bursting to be freed from under the snow, displaying colors so vibrant and vivid and fresh.
On this crisp, gorgeous spring day, here’s what I noticed:

The sun shines brightly in a cerulean blue sky.

 

Emerald green blades of grass glisten through abstract frames of melting snow.

 

Impatient field flowers push their way through the thawing ground.

 

Soft furry moss begs to be touched.

 

Tiny buds adorn the trees.

 

The pond’s icy edges melt away.

 

Cheswick sniffs out the activities of scurrying little critters.

 

The day’s light lasts a bit longer.

 

Welcome, spring!  I noticed you!

Christmas tip-toes in

December 23, 2010

Christmas approaches quietly.

 

Inside,

a wooden Santa Claus hangs from the tree,

 

pine boughs nestle into an antique English planter,

 

a dazzling white amaryllis adorns an ironstone tureen,

 

a vintage glass spooner holds greenery against the bookcase,

 

a mercury glass ornament hangs in the window,

 

lighted branches glow in a corner,

 

candles work overtime,

 

Cheswick (reluctantly) nattily dresses,

 

packages arrive (and Ratatouille can’t resist).

***

All the while, outside,

 

fresh snow tops the copper window boxes,

 

the garden sleeps under an urn of lights,

 

and the birdbath takes on winter duties.

 

Christmas can’t be far away.

 

Reminiscing

December 19, 2010

When in college, I cared for a wonderful women who was then in her 90s.  She was grand and elegant, playful and wise, and utterly adored by her friends and family.  When she entertained, she threw beautiful and festive dinner parties, filling her home with dear friends, engaging conversations, and much laughter and merriment.  She loved to prepare the meal, and took great care in setting the table for her guests.  During the evening, she maintained a house rule that no dishes should be taken to the kitchen or washed by anyone present.  She’d say, “I have all tomorrow to tend to dishes, but only tonight to linger with friends.”  Then, on the morning following, she took pleasure in reminiscing about the previous night as we hand-washed the bone china and dried the silver.  I think hers was a lovely policy, and it’s one I have adopted for my own home:  dishes can wait; it’s the moments together that are to be cherished.  As I readied our house and prepared food for a dinner party recently, and as I cleaned up from it the following morning, memories of her brought a smile to my face.

***

The day begins quietly, doing all the little things …

making soup stock, chopping and prepping, setting the table.

 

When guests arrive, a fire roars in the fireplace, Christmas music plays, dinner warms in the oven.

 

On the menu:

Salad of butter lettuce and arugula

 

Spicy roasted red pepper soup with a piped creme fraiche tree

 

Coq au vin with haricot verts and warm baguettes

 

Good cheer, good wine, good food, good friends!

 

But the night goes too quickly …

the candles burn down, the dessert plates are licked clean, the time comes to reluctantly say good-night.

 

The morning after …

stacks of clean china and silver,

and the warm glow of memory of a night shared with fine friends.

 

A little dog’s winter tale

December 11, 2010

This sweet little dog was given to me by a dear friend.

He very closely resembles my real little dog, Cheswick.

Since his arrival, he has so regally graced my yard, proudly watching over our house and property

(when Cheswick is off-duty, of course).   He is so elegant, so dear, so happily situated.

But, alas, winter arrived today with gusto.  Indeed, it was not a good day to be a little dog!

His day started out badly:

By midday, this was all that was left of him:

And by night-fall, he was no more.

So now, he dreams of spring and warmer days to come.

Me, too!

It will be a happy day when again his sweet little nose pokes out from under the snow.

 

 

Meanwhile, the real dog, young Master Cheswick, happily sits inside on a warm lap!

He too, I think, dreams of spring!